11/08/2016 16:08 EST | Updated 11/09/2017 00:12 EST

U.S. nailbiter: Very close in Florida as Trump remains competitive

WASHINGTON — A nailbiter of an election was taking shape Tuesday as Donald Trump took an early lead in the ballot-counting in Florida — a make-or-break state for him if he's to become the U.S. president.

There were encouraging initial signs for the billionaire showman, though he still has a difficult map to the White House as he requires wins in a number of states, including Florida, where defeat could provide a knockout punch.

A win from Hillary Clinton in either Florida, Pennsylvania or Ohio would provide a huge boost to the Democrat seeking to carve a place in history as the first woman to occupy the Oval Office.

A Clinton victory would also allow Barack Obama to make history again. It would place him in the company of Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan as the only postwar presidents to have a successor extend their party's time in the White House beyond two terms.

But it's no cakewalk.

Republicans roared to big victories down-ballot that allowed them to retain some control of Congress: they held the House of Representatives as expected, and saw their chances of retaining the Senate boosted by wins in Indiana and Marco Rubio's re-election in Florida.

Democrats were anxiously staring at digital maps of the Sunshine State.

They will count on plenty of votes in the southern part of the state — Miami, Fort Lauderdale and surrounding areas, which have been slower to report — in order to overcome the small initial lead Trump grabbed in the conservative northern part of the state.

"Razor close," tweeted Obama's former campaign director in the state, Steve Schale.

"(Clinton's) margins in the urban areas are basically records. His margins in ex-urban areas are basically records. It is a pretty crazy map here."

That disparity is replicated across the country, with the uneven pace of vote-counting between Democrat-friendly urban areas and Republican-leaning rural ones occasionally offering a skewed impression of results to come.